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Day 21 (Part 2): Pitch Wars Query & 1st Page Workshop with mentors, Caitlin Sinead and McKelle George

Wednesday, 7 June 2017  |  Posted by Heather Cashman


Welcome to our Query and 1st Page Workshop with some of our amazing Pitch Wars mentors. From a Rafflecopter lottery drawing, we selected writers to participate in our query and first page workshops. Each mentor has graciously critiqued a query or 500 word opening from our lucky winners. We’ll be posting four critiques per day (except weekends) through July 7. Our hope is that these samples will help shine up your query and first page and that you’ll get to know some of our wonderful Pitch Wars mentors. We appreciate our mentors for giving up their time to do the critiques. If you have something encouraging to add, feel free to comment below. Please keep all comments tasteful. We will delete any inappropriate or hurtful ones.

First up we have …

Pitch Wars Mentor, Caitlin Sinead …

caitlin sinead

Website | Twitter | Editing Services

From Caitlin: I have been writing since the second grade when I drafted a riveting piece about witches who turned out to be friendly.

My novels, HEARTSICK and RED BLOODED, have received positive reviews from Library Journal, RT Book Reviews, and USA TODAY.  My writing has also earned accolades from Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Glimmer Train, and Writers & Artists, and my stories have appeared in multiple publications, including The Alarmist, The Binnacle, Crunchable, Jersey Devil Press, and Northern Virginia Magazine. I earned a master’s degree in writing from Johns Hopkins University and have also studied writing at the College of William and Mary and Yale University. I am represented by Andrea Somberg at Harvey Klinger, Inc.

In my writing, I enjoy mashing the fluffy aspects of life right up against the not-so-fluffy aspects, while sneaking in fun words I wished more people used (e.g., nincompoop, ragamuffin, and peccadillo, to name a few). I live with my husband and two cats in Alexandria, Virginia.

Click on Caitlin’s books below to find out more . . .

Caitlin’s Query  Critique . . .


GENRE: Women’s Fiction

It starts with a confession. “I killed your father.” [This is nice, but I think it takes away from the bigger revelation that her mother killed her father. Removing it would allow the next paragraph to pack more of a punch. Additionally, the real story is Blythe searching for the truth, so you don’t want to spend more time than you need on the setup.]

During an afternoon visit [This could be a nice opportunity to briefly set up some ambiance. Are they having tea, are they on a walk in the woods, are they watching the Price is Right? With just one or two details you can help us understand their relationship a bit more and set up a nice juxtaposition for the “reveal” that she admits to killing her husband] with her ailing mother, everything Blythe Fortenberry—a once prominent real estate agent, and now recovering alcoholic [I’d move this MC bio stuff into its own sentence, either before or after this sentence. As an aside, it slows down the momentum]—thought she knew about her own past is challenged [well, it’s more than just challenged. She isn’t just learning that there were some grown up secrets hidden in the nooks and crannies of her childhood….she’s learning her mother MURDERED her father! This is very intriguing on many levels, not just a “reframing what I thought I knew” level.] when her mother admits to murdering her husband, Blythe’s father.

Dementia has steadily deteriorated the mental health [acuity? “Mental health” has more connotations than just dementia] of Blythe’s mother, Isla Fortenberry, leaving her [nitpicky, but the “her” here refers to Blythe’s mother, not Blythe, as you intended. It needs a little smoothing out.] skeptical of the unsettling admission. But after the death of her mother, the confession weighs heavy, leading Blythe to search for answers about her father’s disappearance [So has her father just been missing and she didn’t know if he was dead or alive? This makes the murder confession an even bigger deal. It’s probably worth weaving that into the first paragraph, if possible.] and her mother’s murderous declaration. [Nice set up for a story!] A journey which takes Blythe down to Savannah, Georgia, and on to the steps of her father’s decaying childhood home. While among the idyllic ancient live oaks and Spanish moss, she finds herself shackled to a darker secret. [Nice imagery]

After discovering a decades old missing persons ad, featuring herself, [Oh, interesting!!] Blythe seeks out her Godmother for the truth behind the ad and of her father’s sudden departure. The search transports Blythe back to WWII era America, where her parents were swept up in a whirlwind romance on the eve of the Pearl Harbor bombing, before the harsh realities of war cruelly ripped them apart. [Add a few more specifics here and what these revelations mean specifically for Blythe. The missing persons ad is really interesting. I think fleshing that out just a bit more could help us grab onto this story better. It could also help frame this as more of Blythe’s story, as opposed to her parents’ story. I understand it’s both and there will be multiple POVs, but if Blythe is held up as the protagonist in the query, we need to understand her journey, her dilemma, her obstacles, her meaning, etc.]

Told from alternating time periods and viewpoints, Heirlooms of Loss is a story about buried family secrets, of [remove “of”] love and loss, and ultimately the healing power of forgiveness.

This manuscript is complete at approximately 83,000 words. [What genre would you put this in? Women’s Fiction? Literary? Mystery?]

As for me, I live in a small Georgia town with my husband and our three children. I am also a current member of the Georgia Writers Association. [Is your town an inspiration for some of your settings? That might be nice to add here.]

Thank you in advance for your consideration.

There is a lot of good stuff here: great tension, nice imagery, questions that demand answers.  Sounds like this would be a fun puzzle for the reader to help solve. Good luck!

Next up we have . . .

Pitch Wars Mentor, McKelle George …

McKelle Georgeediting

Website | Twitter | Editing Services

McKelle George is a reader, writer of clumsy rebels, perpetual doodler, and reference librarian at the best library in the world. She mentors with Salt Lake Teen Writes and plays judge for the Poetry Out Loud teen competitions (but has no poetic talent herself). Her debut young adult novel Speak Easy, Speak Love comes out from Greenwillow/HarperCollins in 2017, and she currently lives in Salt Lake City with an enormous white german shepherd and way, way too many books.


McKelle’s upcoming release …

speak easy speak love

Speak Easy, Speak Love

September 19, 2017


Six teenagers’ lives intertwine during one thrilling summer full of romantic misunderstandings and dangerous deals in this sparkling retelling of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.

After she gets kicked out of boarding school, seventeen-year-old Beatrice goes to her uncle’s estate on Long Island. But Hey Nonny Nonny is more than just a rundown old mansion. Beatrice’s cousin, Hero, runs a struggling speakeasy out of the basement—one that might not survive the summer. Along with Prince, a poor young man determined to prove his worth; his brother John, a dark and dangerous agent of the local mob; Benedick, a handsome trust-fund kid trying to become a writer; and Maggie, a beautiful and talented singer; Beatrice and Hero throw all their efforts into planning a massive party to save the speakeasy. Despite all their worries, the summer is beautiful, love is in the air, and Beatrice and Benedick are caught up in a romantic battle of wits that their friends might be quietly orchestrating in the background.

Hilariously clever and utterly charming, McKelle George’s debut novel is full of intrigue and 1920s charm. For fans of Jenny Han, Stephanie Perkins, and Anna Godbersen.


Goodreads | AmazonIndie


McKelle’s First Page Critique . . .


GENRE: Contemporary

Red velvet. Peach taffeta. Lemon chiffon. [These are all very food related, which puts me in the mind of a bakery as well as fashion; not necessarily a problem, but if it’s not what you’re aiming for, perhaps consider changing up a few of the words.] All pretty on the smiling models with their perfect skin, make-up, and hair. How do most girls get so lucky? Good genes? Will power? Why do they not suffer from the die-a-coaster [Do you mean diet coaster?] like me? Lose a few. Gain a few. Lose a few. Gain a lot. Repeat.

[This is a powerful opening—and it makes me sad. I was definitely that girl at one point. However, it could use with a bit of clarity. You open with these beautiful models in taffeta, but it’s unclear in what context we should be considering them. Until the third paragraph, we could be at a fashion runway as well as a girl’s bedroom. Is she looking at them in a magazine? Is she just daydreaming? Being specific (but brief!) here would help.]

I eye the celery on the plate next to me. Eighteen calories for my afternoon snack. Why do I keep doing this? Nothing ever works. Whether it’s the blue brocade or plum silk, I’ll never feel comfortable at the ball. This dress can wait. I slam my computer shut. Go to the dresser and take out a box of tampons.

[Same thing for this next paragraph; the thoughts you’re hinting at are definitely interesting, but the context is a bit vague. When you say there’s a plate next to her, I think she’s at a table. When you say “this dress” I don’t know if there’s an actual dress in front of her, if she’s wearing it, or if it’s just a picture. Then she slams her computer shut. First, it would be a laptop, not a computer, but also… is the laptop by her plate? It’s fuzzy trying to visualize the scene, which is hindering an otherwise very engaging emotional moment.]

I remove a wrapper and pour out the M&Ms hidden inside into my hand. No one is permitted in my room, but I suspect that Momma snoops in my absence. Nothing visible left in her wake, just a hunch. So I cover my bases and hide stuff where she’d never think to check. Like a tampon box. I pour the handful of candy into my mouth. The red, green, yellow, and brown swirl together to form a sugary explosion. I swallow. Pour more into my mouth. Swallow. Pour. Swallow. Pour. Swallow. Until I’ve gone through half the box of Super Plus. Tonight they don’t help. Not with choosing an infernal dress weighing on me.

Momma said buying one two sizes too small now and working toward fitting into it in four months would give me incentive to keep at my diet. But I don’t want to say yes to a dress too small, too big, or just right. [Interesting. So she doesn’t want a dress at all? It’s a good way to spell out a detail about her without actually spelling it out, I like it.] While I scavenge my room for more hidden contraband I rail against the whole of Gable Heights and its traditions.

There’s a community gathering for every stinking holiday complete with parades and novelty booths. Want to see the largest gathering of Christophers in America? Come to Gable Heights on Columbus Day. More tricksters than treats? Halloween. A Pilgrim versus Indians themed football game? Meet up here for Thanksgiving. But the biggest event is the annual White Glove Society Ball. It’s like if a Quinceñaera met up with prom at the Miss America pageant. Every privileged seventeen-year-old, which pretty much means every girl in the [our] town, is expected to attend. That includes me. And the need for the ludicrous dress. [I like this paragraph! I feel like you avoid being too info-dumpy here by having her personality and voice in it.]

I open my sock drawer, remembering there’s a sleeve of cookies stashed there, but I only find crumbs. Must have eaten them and forgot. Move on to my laundry bin.

Traditions don’t hold much less [confusing wording here] meaning to me than Momma. I don’t want to go to college or marry my high school sweetheart, not that I’m free to have one of those, and I most certainly do not want to attend the ball. But in order to do what I’ve dreamed about since age seven, I agreed to go. And that means finding a dress not to mention[and] a date, [in that order].

Super interesting! I’m definitely curious about this world—though I’m not immediately sure if it’s supposed to a fictional/speculative kind of world, or if it’s just a town with its quirks, etc. But those are the kind of questions that propel a reader forward, so all in all, great job! Your character is relatable—as is stashing good food away from an overbearing parent. I felt that for sure.


Thank you, Caitlin and McKelle, for your critiques!

Interested in more critiques? We’ll be posting critiques through the first part of July. Hope you’ll read on. And get ready! The Pitch Wars Mentor Wishlist Blog Hop starts July 19 with the Pitch Wars submission window opening on August 2nd.

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